More international cooperation needed to tackle haze: Vivian

More cooperation is needed to tackle the problem of transboundary haze, said Singapore's Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan.

"Countries are individually tackling the problem... but we need closer regional and international cooperation to apply legal and commercial pressure," Dr Balakrishnan told the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 on Sunday.

This would prevent companies from "profiting from unsustainable land and forest clearing", he said.

His comments came as air quality in Singapore reached unhealthy levels due to forest fires in Indonesia. Singapore has started legal action against five companies it believes are behind the fires.

Dr Balakrishnan linked the issue of haze to some of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all, as well as the sustainable management of forests and preventing land degradation and biodiversity loss.

COLLECTIVE PRESSURE

Countries are individually tackling the problem... but we need closer regional and international cooperation to apply legal and commercial pressure.

DR VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources

These goals come under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted last Friday. It aims to wipe out poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the next 15 years.

Emphasising that many issues of sustainable development cannot be addressed unilaterally, Dr Balakrishnan said forest and peatland fires in South-east Asia "impair the health of millions of people in the region, compromise the safety of aircraft and damage the regional economy".

"The large quantities of carbon dioxide released set back global efforts to mitigate climate change," he said.

The global director of the Forests Programme at think-tank World Resources Institute, Dr Nigel Sizer, told The Straits Times that one way for Singapore and Indonesia to cooperate would be to share information "which can be used to hold companies accountable for fires on their land".

"Indonesia could welcome Singa- pore's offer to help, including expertise in helping understand and address the root cause of the fires and haze which have now sadly become an annual crisis point," he said.

Commenting on the 2030 Agenda more generally, Dr Balakrishnan said it would require "renewed commitment and enhanced partnerships from all stakeholders - states, international organisations, international financial institutions, the private sector and civil society".

Under a new Sustainable Development Programme, Singapore will work with partners to offer leadership programmes, programmes on sustainable cities and urbanisation, and provide training and consultancy in the area of water and sanitation.

President Barack Obama, who also spoke at the summit, pledged the United States' commitment to achieving the SDGs, saying: "We reaffirm that supporting development is not charity, but is instead one of the smartest investments we can make in our own future."

Also pointing to the need for cooperation, he said "the next chapter of development cannot just be about what governments spend, it has to harness the unprecedented resources of our interconnected world".

Looking forward to the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris at the end of the year, he said: "We need to establish the tools and financing to help developing nations embrace clean energy, adapt to climate change and ensure that there's not a false choice between economic development and the best practices that can save our planet."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2015, with the headline 'More international cooperation needed to tackle haze: Vivian'. Print Edition | Subscribe